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State v. Roeper

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

September 4, 2018

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JEANNE ROEPER, a/k/a JEANNA ROEPER, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF EDDY COUNTY Jane Shuler Gray, District Judge

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Santa Fe, NM Jane A. Bernstein, Assistant Attorney General Albuquerque, NM for Appellee

          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender Tania Shahani, Assistant Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Appellant

          OPINION

          JULIE J. VRIGAS JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         {¶1} Defendant appeals her criminal conviction for failure to enforce compulsory school attendance resulting from her fifteen-year-old son's habitual truancy. We conclude that the Compulsory School Attendance Law (the Act), NMSA 1978, §§22-12-1 to -10 (1967, as amended through 2017) requires that the juvenile probation office conduct an investigation into whether Defendant's child was "a neglected child or a child in a family in need of services" pursuant to Section 22-12-7(C) and, taking the information discovered in that investigation into consideration, make a determination and finding that the truancy may have been caused by Defendant before prosecuting Defendant. As the evidence presented was insufficient to show that the required investigation was conducted, we reverse.

         II. BACKGROUND

         {¶2} Defendant is the mother of three children, including fifteen-year-old J.M. (Son). Son had a history of behavioral problems and had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Defendant also cares for her younger son, who is deaf and suffers from autism and Down syndrome. Along with her own three children, Defendant also cares for her grandchild.

         {¶3} In the winter of 2012, following a stay in hospice, Defendant's husband died. Defendant suffers from bipolar disorder and depression, and eight or nine months after her husband's death, in the fall of 2013, Defendant suffered a mental breakdown and checked herself into a hospital for approximately three weeks.

         {¶4} While Defendant was hospitalized, Son's grandmother enrolled him at Eddy Alternative School in mid-August 2013. Son began school at Eddy Alternative School as an eighth grader after having been held back from high school for one year. Son's attendance at the school was "sporadic," and he quickly accumulated an impermissible number of absences. The school attempted, without success, to contact Defendant regarding Son's absences on several occasions. On September 19, 2013, the school mailed Defendant notice that Son had four unexcused absences, following up with another letter the next day, notifying of Son's fifth unexcused absence. Both letters requested that Defendant contact the school within one week to schedule a meeting with the school's principal. On October 14, 2013, the school sent Defendant written notice that Son had accumulated ten and a half unexcused absences and requested that Defendant contact the principal of the school within forty-eight hours. The letter further advised that the case was "being referred to the [j]uvenile [p]robation & [p]arole [o]ffice for investigation and potential prosecution."

         {¶5} The school forwarded its file on Son to Danial Schwertner, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer (Schwertner). Schwertner reviewed the file and decided solely from that review that Defendant may have caused Son's habitual truancy. The State filed a complaint in magistrate court, charging Defendant with one count of failure to enforce compulsory school attendance, contrary to Section 22-12-7. At trial, Defendant testified that Son was sometimes violent toward her and that she was afraid of him. As evidence of Son's violent behavior, Defendant introduced evidence that between April 2013 and December 2013 emergency services received at least five 911 calls reporting disturbances involving Son at the family home.

         {¶6} The magistrate court found Defendant guilty. Defendant appealed to the district court, where she received a trial de novo. The district court upheld the magistrate court's judgment.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The ...


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